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What’s in a name?

By Steve Laing

I’ve greatly enjoyed some of the discussions on The AIMN over the last few weeks, although like many, I get a little disappointed when it gets personal, a little sarky, and then a little nasty. However, that’s how families argue, and I’d rather have the argument than live in a bubble of avoiding the topic.

In Scotland we argued constantly about politics. When I moved to England, it just wasn’t the done thing. Not the subject for polite discussion. I guess that is reflected in the politics of those countries too. In Scotland people voted for the party that best reflected their beliefs and values because we’d worked out what they were, in England I always suspected that people voted for the party most appropriate to their status (whether real or perceived) because they hadn’t really talked about or understood it. If you don’t argue about politics, you don’t really understand it. This is generally, I believe, why conservatives get elected.

The other thing that is important to understand about me is that by degree (though not by career), I’m an applied biological scientist. I come to conclusions based on observation, evidence and facts. But I’m also very interested in evolution, and how it impacts on humans, the way they think, and the way they act.

One of the things humans like to do is categorise things. We like to stick things in boxes. Nice, neat, tidy boxes. It is, no doubt, a survival mechanism, helping us categorize the world we inhabit and thus avoid future danger. But we do it for so many things, including people. You’re a leftard, you’re a fascist, you are a tree-hugging Greeny; and here on The AIMN, apparently you are either a collectivist or an individual (though I suspect some people would prefer to use a word coined by Scott Adams in his Dilbert cartoons, an “inDUHvidual”).

The problem with this behavior, however, is that it can be very constricting, and given that no longer need to be so entirely focused on survival anymore, not particularly useful. Humans by their nature are individuals and collectivists. There are a few exceptions – I’m aware that some who are severely autistic are unable to relate to anyone else, effectively trapped inside their individuality. But by and large, we display both traits.

Even the most ardent libertarian, anti-marxist behaves as a true socialist when it comes to child rearing, where from each according to his ability (the parent) will give to each according to his need (the child), though I’m sure there are a few who would love to send their kids up chimneys if they could.

Similarly whilst most of the great thinkers, philosophers and scientists may have developed their idea collectively, the first spark was undoubtedly an individual effort. And whilst music is an art best practiced in union, composing is largely a singular discipline.

Finally I consider myself highly privileged to be the father of two beautiful and intelligent identical twin daughters. Genetically they could not be more collective, but to even suggest they weren’t individuals would be more than my life is worth (though as a team they can be frightening!)

We are one, but we are many. You know how it goes, and it is absolutely true. As a species humans use both individual and collective strategies to survive. We aren’t true collectivists like ants or bees, we aren’t true individualists like adult polar bears or tigers. Our civilization is a testament to our ability to thrive using both traits, allowing both individual and collective effort, more concerned with the outcome than the process. Whether Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia or Sydney’s Opera House, both are the result of individual thought, and collective action.

The problem is balance. Whilst left wing collectivists rail against libertarian individuals, they often conveniently ignore that fascism is a collectivist ideology. Subsuming individual thought into mob rule can quickly become dangerous and easy to subvert, whether in Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, or potentially Hansonist Australia. Hopefully it will never get to this point, but with apparently 50% supporting One Nation’s views on Muslims, we are very clearly close to an extremely dangerous tipping point. We clearly don’t need an awful lot of prompting to be made to believe that all Muslim’s are terrorists. I used to wonder how Hitler got away with his treatment of Jews, how he subverted the minds of a nation. I no longer wonder. It frighteningly appears all too easy.

On single issues, collectivism can clearly be a very effective thing – organizations like GetUp appear to be worrying the current government more than the ALP. If we could but encourage politicians to overrule their political collectivism, and become single-issue collectivists, we’d have marriage equality in the bag. I’d like to think without the standover tactics, we’d also have a federal ICAC, a banking Royal Commission, and lots, lots more. It is ideally what I’d like to see our parliament become. Imagine how interesting debates might become when politicians weren’t tied down to the same, dull, party line. Trying to persuade people using rational argument rather than simply tired cliché “yeah, but the other mob done worse”. Moreover I’m not buying into that “we are a broad church” bullshit from the LNP either. If any politicians cross the floor, we know there will be repercussions.

Party based collectivism is ruining politics. It is stifling debate, it is preventing ideas, it is stopping progress. Somehow we need to find ways to let a bit more individualism back into the political system, before it is too late.

Steve Laing Steve Laing – Steve is unaligned to any particular party, but cognizant of the reality that people are our biggest asset, so it makes sense to look after them. Uncomfortable with the ineptitude that permeates our current government, and yet sees such as the prevailing condition in our political system. Over the years Steve has worked for a number of different businesses, both corporate and small, and has experienced good and bad “policy” development and decision making, and seen the outcomes of such. Steve also has his own blog: www.makeourvoiceheard.com.

 

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15 comments

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  1. kerri

    One of the things humans like to do is categorise things. We like to stick things in boxes. Nice, neat, tidy boxes.
    https://youtu.be/Qvu0J-gaJ50
    Maybe we need more Emily’s list??

  2. bobrafto

    It has only taken 15 years for Howard, Hanson, Abbott and others to divide the country in half, imagine what they could achieve if they remained in power for another 15 years.

    One frightening thought is if the poll scales tip towards 70%, ethnic cleansing could be on the cards, and before anyone dismisses this thought keep in mind we have innocent people locked up indefinitely in concentration camps.

    Who would have thought that?

  3. helvityni

    ” I get a little disappointed when it gets personal, a little sarky, and then a little nasty. However, that’s how families argue, and I’d rather have the argument than live in a bubble of avoiding the topic”

    Arguing, disagreeing about issues, about politics, it’s of course fine. When the personal attacks raise their ugly heads, I lose interest.
    I assume we are all adults here, we should know better, and behave better, there should no need for moderators. Maybe some posters here see this as some kind QT, and have our politicians as their role models and behave accordingly…?

    Let’s attack them, and not each other.

  4. Matters Not

    Steve, it’s a good read. But I am interested in your statement:

    I come to conclusions based on observation, evidence and facts.

    While I am not questioning that assertion, what puzzles me is that I could ‘observe’ exactly the same ‘happening’ as you and yet arrive at entirely different ‘conclusions’. Indeed, I could ‘observe’ any number of ‘events’ and reach a whole range of different conclusions that would be in contrast to your conclusions.

    Further, I could gather ‘evidence’ (based on observations) that you perhaps would not gather. I could also collect ‘facts’ (based on observations) that you perhaps would not collect. Again further, I probably would draw ‘conclusions’ (give meaning(s)) to that ‘evidence’ and those ‘facts’ that would be in variance to your conclusions.

    As Julius Sumner Miller would ask – Why is it so?

    Could it be the case that ‘observations’, ‘evidence’, facts’ and ‘conclusions’ might be rooted in the ‘theory’ (mental constructs etc) that we begin with?

  5. Steve Laing - makeourvoiceheard.com

    And that, Matters Not, is how science works! My conclusions are but a hypothesis. Someone can come up with an entirely different hypothesis, which might make me question mine, and make me pursue further evidence and facts. When these hypotheses become largely agreed, they become a theory, which is, contrary to most peoples understanding, not something that is correct, but is something that is least wrong. Science cannot actually prove anything, it can only disprove stuff.

  6. Terry2

    Thanks Steve.

    We had a family reunion recently with most of the older generation having adult children – and in some cases grandchildren. The interesting thing was that all of us agreed that the younger generation, as first home buyers, were being gazumped constantly at auctions by investors with unrealistic bidding. Our assessment being that negative gearing and soft capital gains tax concessions were at the heart of the problem.

    I found that this consensus among a group of people living as far apart as Cairns to Hobart was telling us something about government policy that had gone off the rails.

    It was also observed that the only reason why Labor’s policy of restricting Negative Gearing and concessional CGT to new builds was not taken up because…………it was Labor policy.

  7. bobrafto

    Matters Not
    While not questioning your assertion, I would assert that there are 3 sides to the story.

  8. stephengb2014

    Fantastic stuff,

    “Steve Laing – makeourvoiceheard.comSeptember 22, 2016 at 11:48 pm
    And that, …, is how science works! My conclusions are but a hypothesis. Someone can come up with an entirely different hypothesis, which might make me question mine, and make me pursue further evidence and facts. When these hypotheses become largely agreed, they become a theory, which is, contrary to most peoples understanding, not something that is correct, but is something that is least wrong. Science cannot actually prove anything, it can only disprove stuff”.

    Why is it that the general public do not understand this simple paragraph about science.

  9. townsvilleblog

    Steve, I am an unskilled disability pensioner, however my English grandfather from Sheffield taught me about politics in the 1980s. He told me that it was politics that would donate how much a loaf of bread would cost, and also how much money you would have in your pocket to purchase said loaf of bread. Obviously he was no tory, he and his wife worked hard all their lives in the (long gone) Townsville Ross River Meatworks. One of his sons was a boner in same meatworks, and he used to make up for the pitiful wages he received by stealing the odd lump of meat to feed his family. I remain proud of my Grandfather to this day. He was a lovely, kind and generous man with his time and anything he had. He feed ‘our’ troops in WW2 and always voted Labor, because they remain to this day, the best of the worst.

    If only we had a people’s political party in Australia he would say, sadly Australians have never supported each other and their unions, as Pop did!

  10. Matters Not

    Steve, thanks for your response. It was an area of interest for me and as you realise there is a tension between the views of Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, Imre Lakatos and Paul Feyerabend. Or at least there was.

    Or maybe the debate has moved on? If so, who is providing the latest ‘insights’?

  11. Steve Laing - makeourvoiceheard.com

    Thanks for your comments. @stephengb2014 – my first lecture at university was on the scientific “process”. Its impact on me was quite profound, particularly given I’d gone entirely through years of science teaching at school with not a nod to these fundamental concepts. It is a hugely important concept, and once realised you’ll thereafter understand why scientists tend to be so cagey about what they know – because they understand that knowledge is really only what we know “so far”. A theory is not the statement of categoric truth that simple thinkers so desire, which leaves the gap that the climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers, intelligent designers and other pseudo-scientists creep their bogus hypotheses (they cannot be called theories – they simply don’t pass the critical key peer-reviewed muster) into the public domain. A real scientist is not unhappy to be proved wrong.

    @Harquebus – I’m kinda with you on that one, except I know a great number of religious people who are among the most warm-hearted, open-minded, and generous people that I know. Indeed I grew up in a “religious household” as my father was (is?) a vicar in the Scottish Episcopal church, although he never once thrust religion on any of his 4 children (we are all atheists), never said grace before meal (unless the bishop, or other congregational worthies were in attendance). I learned from him that the philosophy that underlines christianity is a very worthy one, which is effectively to treat others like yourself, is as close to real socialism as is possible. I was delighted to find out as a young adult from one of his colleagues, that he was known amongst them as Red Alex. His “mission” (if he had one) was creating communities of friendly, helpful folk – rather than proselytising – a more lasting, and valuable legacy, and I think a better display of his socialist/christian values than anything he might have said. However the organised church of almost any religion seems to be easily abused by those with selfish intent, and for that reason I dislike and distrust it intensely. Fortunately I think that its influence is slowly waning, however where there is poverty, religion slithers in.

    @townsvilleblog – Sheffield is a great northern town, and being one of the key centres of steelmaking, is steeped in unionism. Sadly a shadow of its former glory (as wonderfully depicted in The Full Monty), its people still show that proud Yorkshire grit. My grandmother was from Leeds, and similarly distrustful of the “Tory voting shires down south”. But as I found out, it was largely ignorance (wilful or otherwise), and believing the crap they were told by the media moguls, that tended to determine their voting patterns, rather than through trying to understand policy and its longer term implications. The Guardian is/was a Manchester, rather than a Fleet Street, newspaper, hence its politics have always been more progressive. Its a welcome addition to the media landscape here, although some of its Australian political reporters seem just a little too cosy in the press gallery…

  12. Mark Needham

    Steve, good to hear it from someone else. “which might make me question mine, ”
    Getting to the “truth” in politics is the hardest part. Guess we only deserve the distorted facts as rendered by the media, or in fact others, as they deem fit to pass on. Not adding bias, ie, our own views tends to dilute the information that we end up forming opinions on.
    Thanks for your article, comment.
    Cheers,
    Mark Needham
    PS add an edit. Never been a union fan, the truth gets lost in that argument very quickly. But do not deny the right of anyone to join or be in a union.

  13. Steve Laing - makeourvoiceheard.com

    Thanks Mark – I’ve never had personal need to join a union, but appreciate what they can provide particularly for those who might otherwise be voiceless. However, I’ve also seen unions far over-reach themselves, putting businesses/industries and thence their members on the line. Having worked for a German company for a number of years, I was massively impressed by their workers council set-up. They have board representation, and tend to take a much more pragmatic view of their members needs balanced against the issues the business is facing. Germany is a highly “unionised” country, but also a very successful – in many respects because of this. The “us” versus “them” of workers and management is increasingly outdated, which is a large reason why the union movement appears to be on the decline.

    And as you say, the difficulty we have in forming opinions is often first being able to dissemble the “truth” from the “lies”, particularly how easy it is to create a new “truth” simply by repetition whilst ignoring context. The current anti-Muslim immigration sentiment is an excellent example of this – the facts simply don’t equate to the level of media coverage. Over here in WA we had the same sort of crap from the government and a very compliant media about needing to cull large numbers of sharks so people could have unworried fun – fortunately there are enough people educated enough who just wouldn’t let that stupidity go. I wish people could get as excited about looking after our own minorities.

  14. The whole truth

    “and I’d rather have the argument than live in a bubble of avoiding the topic”

    it is a sad fact, that people can not hear the truth abouth things like 9/11, or the port arthur massacre, as laid bare by some hard working people over at https://gumshoenews.com/ , that their only recourse is to label these people “conspiracy theorists” – if they had any sort of reasonable argument against the evidence that shows the official accounts of both those events are riddled with lies and impossibilities, they would simply put them up, but being afraid of what shining the light on a little truth may reveal, they get angry and scared..

    the lies of these events have given us the racist xenophobic idiots in government we have today.. thanks to a gutless media devoid of any integrity or ethics

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